This is something only God knows.
The patriarchy in India is real. I went there a few years ago for a week with a friend of mine—a trip she organized and therefore had all our local reservations under her name. Regardless of whether they knew hers was a woman’s name or not, you can’t diminish the fact that almost every single person we met from tour guides to drivers to hotel employees made the assumption to come to me and call me by her name. It didn’t matter when we corrected them that she was their true customer. I was the one they engaged. At the time you laugh, but it’s not long before you realize what that ingrained conditioning can do to a country. We went to cities. Villages must be worse.
Cue Rayka Zehtabchi‘s short documentary Period. End of Sentence. wherein she asks women of all ages about menstruation. Those who know the answer provide a giggle of shy mortification while those who don’t smile and ask her to explain. There are seniors talking about how the blood is dirty. Spiritual leaders teaching that you cannot go to a temple to pray to a female God because she won’t listen if you’re bleeding “dirty blood.” So you have a forced stigma fed to women from the moment they can understand religion until menstruation becomes a subject that gives taboo a run for its money. Sanitation is non-existent. Education is impossible since educators don’t know. And fear of constantly changing fabric cloths in proximity to men causes an influx of school dropouts.
Funded by students at Oakwood School in Los Angeles (where Zehtabchi is based) via the usual adolescent avenues of bake sales, Kickstarter, and whatever a yogathon is, the small village at the center of this film is gifted a sanitary pad-making machine. The developer of the unit provides an unbelievable statistic that less than 10% of India’s women use the product. So to be able to create an affordable, disposable, and effective product is monumental. But that’s only the beginning once we discover the village’s women will oversee the process with some elderly employees embarking on their first ever job. We’re experiencing a closed-loop economic chain empowering a gender to take control after centuries of men doing the equivalent of covering their ears at topics they find “icky.”
The result is a vibrant, funny, and important look at what happens when an underserved people are given the means and agency to be more than they’ve been told they can. With a sub-plot of one woman studying to be a police officer and another saying she earned her husband’s respect for the first time, it’s simultaneously inspiring and heart-breaking. All this joy, purpose, and life-saving potential arrived from one school’s charitable efforts and it doesn’t stop there since this act quickly reverberates far beyond a single village. This is true entrepreneurial spirit that looks towards the betterment of humanity rather than some false ideal of the American Dream hiding a sinful truth of greed underneath. Suddenly hope exists where one wasn’t aware possessing hope was even possible.